In order to be fully informed on current issues affecting the environment, peace and justice, John M. Morgan believes that local citizens need exposure to a wide variety of information on these subjects.
Morgan, the volunteer program director of WEJP progressive radio, tells Weelunk, “People need to hear more sides of the issues. We all need to open our minds a bit. The polarization that currently exists has to end. We all need to find common ground.”
Wheeling station WEJP aspires to meet that goal.
WEJP is a project of Ohio Valley Peace, a local group formed in 2002 to oppose the war on Iraq. OVP strives to educate the public about issues of peace, justice and the environment and to promote policies in accordance with these concerns. Some hot-button topics addressed by the group are equal rights, pollution, fracking, racism and militarism. The group achieved 501(c)(3) non-profit status in 2007.
WEJP, a 100-watt low-power station, broadcasts from its renovated tower and studio space at 1001 Grandview St. in Wheeling. The station reaches at least a 5-mile radius in most directions from the tower and can be heard by scrolling to 107.1 on your FM dial.
THE STATION’S CREATION
WEJP was created to bring community radio to Wheeling with independent news and public affairs programming, as well as a wide range of musical selections and spoken-word broadcasts.
Morgan says that the idea of bringing a new radio station to life took hold in 2013 when the FCC offered a rare opportunity for non-profit groups to apply for low-power FM radio construction permits. OVP jumped at the chance and applied for a permit, but actually bringing the station to fruition took much time and effort.
Ideally, the group hoped to utilize the call letters WEJP because of their interest in the environment, justice and peace. Morgan was elated to learn that the WEJP call sign was actually available.
“We were very lucky to get the call letters we wanted,” he says. Another group was also vying for the 107.1 spot on the FM spectrum, which prolonged the permit process.
However, WEJP was ultimately successful in securing its desired dial position and received its FCC construction permit in October 2014 with the condition that the station’s construction be finished within 36 months.
Morgan said the group knew it needed a perfect hilltop location for the transmitter; high enough to be effective but not so high as to exceed FCC height limitations for low-power FM transmission. The group explored a number of locations atop the rolling hills of Wheeling. The Grandview area was a particularly attractive spot because of its altitude and central location, and OVP was immediately interested in establishing WEJP’s station base there.
The only available commercial building on Grandview Street had already been spoken for, and OVP did not have the financial muscle needed for a new build.
However, they noticed an unused, dilapidated structure in a prime spot adjacent to Grandview’s water tower. This building, owned by the City of Wheeling, had once housed some sort of communications equipment and had apparently sat unused since the 1960s.
Morgan and OVP contacted city leaders about this prime piece of real estate. Unfortunately, the city government was not interested in leasing it at that time. But, after the 2016 election and subsequent change of local government leadership, City Council was open to the idea of allowing WEJP to utilize the space.
“We finally signed the lease in January 2017, just nine months before the construction deadline mandated by our permit,” Morgan says.
He and a team of dedicated volunteers worked diligently to clean up the shed-like structure and ready the radio tower’s 60-foot tall “mast” for broadcasting before their permit expired.
“All the work was done by volunteers. The only help we hired was a radio engineer to install the antenna, transmitter and Emergency Broadcast System,” Morgan said. Morgan personally scraped and painted the uppermost portion of the tower mast from a rented lift truck and managed to capture some terrific birds’-eye-view photographs while doing so.
Volunteers installed new electric service to the building and the water tower beside it. Local electrician Vince DeCrease generously volunteered his time to completely modernize the wiring in the structure. Also, the team removed all the old equipment, renovated the restroom and completely painted the building’s interior. The base of the tower mast was reinforced with a new concrete foundation. In October 2017, WEJP was granted their broadcasting permit and was officially ready to ride the airwaves.
Morgan has been the sole programmer for WEJP since day one. After acquiring the necessary software to broadcast, Morgan set about learning exactly how to use it successfully. He says that he used a friend’s massive music collection to create a continuous loop of music that ran for the first few weeks from 6 a.m. until midnight while he figured out the workings of the broadcasting software and the basics about programming.
“Two people from Columbus and a man from Clay County, West Virginia, who already had low-power FM stations were helpful in getting me started,” Morgan states. Though he learned a great deal from his mentors, Morgan says he made plenty of mistakes in the early weeks.
For instance, a listener once called to let him know that his personal telephone conversation could be heard over the music.
But despite the early growing pains, Morgan persevered and in 2018, expanded the station’s programming to 24 hours per day, seven days a week. He currently runs and airs the station remotely from his Belmont County home.
Also in 2018, a group of OVP volunteers joined forces to insulate the building and add siding and a new roof. These upgrades were completed using donated construction materials, which kept the cost down and also reduced the group’s carbon footprint by repurposing existing supplies.
At the present time, the programming featured on WEJP comes from several sources. Morgan says that WEJP’s largest single source of content is the Pacifica radio network. Pacifica supports independent radio stations that create and broadcast media of unique voices and visions, elevating local stations’ content to a national network. WEJP is an official Pacifica affiliate station.
Morgan also pulls much of the station’s content from podcasts. “One bridge I would like to help strengthen is between anti-war libertarians and anti-war liberals, so I play most of The Scott Horton Show, a prodigious anti-war podcast,” says Morgan.
Other sources of programming are PRX public radio, Radio4All and the Progressive Radio Network. Some of the current programming options are Democracy Now! Live, The Zero Hour with RJ Eskow, The Ralph Nader Radio Hour, Building Bridges and The Jimmy Dore Show.
“The Zero Hour program, which we air Monday mornings, is produced by Troy Miller, who grew up in Wheeling,” Morgan shares.
Miller is pleased to be involved with this independent station in his hometown, telling Weelunk, “Right now in America FIVE media companies control 90 percent of the media that we consume, and even ‘local’ TV stations are often owned by massive national conglomerates, and so local coverage suffers. In terrestrial radio in the U.S., one company, iHeart, controls 850 music and talk stations in 150 markets. Considering all of that, WEJP is absolutely invaluable as an independent outlet for community voices and community DJs to broadcast in Wheeling and the Ohio Valley. In addition, The Zero Hour with Richard Eskow is proud to air in Wheeling. Richard remembers listening to WWVA growing up in upstate New York.”
In addition to its talk radio offerings, ad-free WEJP also offers blocks of music with genres ranging from country to classical and jazz to folk.
The station boasts a loyal following, with many listeners tuning in online. The current streaming service limits the number of listeners that can be accommodated at one time, but WEJP is planning to upgrade that service in the future as listenership grows. There are also plans to improve the studio space so that Morgan and others can eventually broadcast live from 1001 Grandview Street.
“We welcome more local input and involvement,” Morgan states. “We encourage fellow progressive groups to share the airwaves with us. We want to equip the studio and make good use of it.”
If you have ideas for local programming or would like to become involved with WEJP, call Morgan at 740-926-1481. Donations toward finishing the studio are also welcome and can be made by contacting Morgan. For more information about OVP, the public is invited to attend the group’s meetings at 7 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Ohio County Public Library.
A PASSION FOR PROGRESSIVE THINKING
“In the beginning, people told me broadcast radio was nearly obsolete,” Morgan says with a smile. “But OVP wanted to cover the issues in a more progressive way. I wanted more progressive alternative news to be available locally. I hope the broadcast will facilitate people who aren’t looking for this kind of alternative information to stumble on it and discover information and ideas they haven’t otherwise been exposed to. That’s why I have invested the past several years of my life in this. It’s become a passion.”
To listen online, copy and paste WEJP’s URL http://188.8.131.52:8000 into any browser. You can also use free Winamp software on Windows or Clementine software on Mac operating systems.
• Ellen Brafford McCroskey works in the Lawyer Development Department at Orrick’s GOC in downtown Wheeling, where she has been employed for eight years. A lifelong Wheeling resident, she is a graduate of Wheeling Park High School and Wheeling Jesuit University with a bachelor’s degree in human resources management. Her hobbies include writing, photography, crafting and crocheting. Her pet causes are educating others on the need for solutions to the opioid crisis and the need for equality for all people, particularly her LGBTQ friends and family. Ellen resides in Warwood with her husband Doug, who is the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their extended family includes four adult children and their significant others; a number of biological and “adopted” grandkids; their dads and sisters; numerous in-laws and outlaws; and a clowder of rescued pets.